Fugitive “affluenza” teen Ethan Couch and his mother have been detained in Mexico, weeks after the 18-year-old skipped a meeting with his probation officer and sparked a continental manhunt.
Couch made national headlines in 2013 when he got off scot-free for helming a booze- and drug-fueled joyride that killed four innocent bystanders and maimed two others.
He and his mother, Tonya, 48, were taken into custody around 6 p.m. near the beachside tourist town of Puerto Vallarta on Monday afternoon, a spokesman for the Jalisco state prosecutor’s office told ABC News. A spokeswoman for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office confirmed with The Fort Worth Star Telegram that Mexican officials had the Couches in custody.
Late Monday, the Jalisco authorities released a photo of Couch in custody. He appeared to have dyed his hair black while on the lam.
Now that Couch and his mother have been captured they will likely be turned over to U.S. Marshals and extradited back to Tarrant County, Texas, to face justice for failing to attend a “check-in” with the teen’s probation officer on Dec. 10.
After internal delay to notify authorities of Couch’s disappearance, a dragnet followed five days later, and a warrant (PDF) was issued along with a $5,000 reward to reel in the teen, who may have violated probation by boozing it up with pals. A video that went viral on Twitter this month appears to show Couch and his friends playing beer pong.
The wealthy heir and his mom’s disappearance threw salt on wounded communities throughout Texas, where Couch dodged a 20-year prison sentence when a psychiatrist testified that the then-16-year-old boy was afflicted with “affluenza” for being given carte blanche by his millionaire parents and didn’t comprehend the severity of his actions.
Couch walked out of court in 2013 after Texas State District Judge Jean Boyd (who has since retired) ruled he would be hit with only 10 years of probation and a spell at a swanky rehab facility near Newport Beach, California, offering the youth yoga, “equine-assisted psychotherapy,” cooking classes, and mixed martial arts.
That was his paltry punishment for driving drunk with seven passengers and killing innocent bystanders who were trying to help a woman whose SUV broke down the night of June 15, 2013.
Couch’s F-350 truck blew through a 45 mph zone at a whopping 70 mph and struck and killed his victims: youth pastor Brian Jennings, Hollie and Shelby Boyles, and 24-year-old Breanna Mitchell.
The boy’s run for the border may have compromised the conditions of his probation, and Couch, who has been living carefree in his parents’ mansion, could soon land in the “big boy” big house, authorities said.
Darlene Goodsell, the mother of one of the teenage passengers on Ethan Couch’s twisted joyride, told The Daily Beast in an interview last week that Couch and his mom would have to answer for their actions.
“You just don’t do that,” Goodsell fumed. “You don’t go and take your kid on the run. I hope they get caught. They can’t keep running forever.”
Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson, who predicted the Couches fled the country, joined the FBI and U.S. Marshals to nab the missing mother-son absconders.
“I don’t believe they are the sort of people who would run a short distance,” Anderson told CNN last week, noting that the mother-son duo had a “five-day head start” on authorities.
“I believed they planned this and I’m not going to be at all surprised if they’re found outside the country… they have the money and they have the ability to disappear.”
Indeed, Tonya’s allegedly “codependent” relationship with Ethan may have led the duo to take off.
Court records from Tonya and Fred Couch’s 2006 divorce proceedings revealed Tonya called Ethan her “protector,” and the boy typically slept near her in a bed she moved into her room, according to a profile in Dallas’s D Magazine.
Fred claimed Tonya threatened to kill herself, was addicted to pills, and gave Vicodin to Ethan several times, according to a social worker’s evaluation revealed by D Magazine.
The social worker was concerned about “the codependent relationship Ethan has with his mother and the father’s lack of a regular and consistent relationship with Ethan,” according to D Magazine.
LeVonna Anderson, the founder of a private school Ethan Couch attended, told the magazine Tonya “wanted better” for her son.
Still, Tonya “loved the boy so much that she couldn’t say no to him,” Anderson told D Magazine. “If you’re raising young men, you’ve got to learn to say no.”
Ethan lived with Tonya in their sprawling Burleson, Texas, ranch home, a five-bedroom residence that sits on six acres and includes a swimming pool, playground, and 6,000-square-foot workshop outside, one property listing shows.
In 2011, Tonya remarried Fred and moved into his Fort Worth home—often leaving Ethan alone at the Burleson residence.
Around January 2013—a month before the crash—Ethan was living by himself or with a cousin at the Burleson house, the parents would later testify. The house was empty except for a bed, a couch, an Xbox console, and a big-screen TV, D Magazine reported.
Tonya had a history of covering for her son, the court documents showed.
On a February night at 1 a.m., a cop found Ethan urinating in a parking lot, with a 14-year-old girl naked inside his truck, which contained a Miller Lite can and bottle of Grey Goose vodka, according to D Magazine.
Tonya paid Ethan’s fines and court fees, and blamed herself when he didn’t complete an alcohol class and community-service hours. She said she’d “misread the online thing.”
During a deposition in a civil suit against the family a year later, Tonya was asked about the girl. “That morning?” Tonya replied. “Her mom picked her up, I assume. I guess. I don’t know.”
Meanwhile, Ethan’s father has troubles of his own. In August 2014, police arrested Fred for impersonating a police officer, The Dallas Morning News reported.
Cops say Couch showed up to a disturbance call at a North Richland Hills home the month before and claimed to be a Lakeside reserve officer. He allegedly provided a bogus badge and ID card.
It’s unclear what’s become of the wannabe-cop charges.
Fred also appears to be estranged from a 26-year-old son from his first marriage. In February 2012, the son wrote on Facebook, “Just because you’re blood that doesn’t make you family.”
A year later, the older son posted, “Someone asked me recently if I would be sad if my father died. To which my response was ‘I will be sad he never tried to be a better person, but no probably not.’ Some have called this a cold hearted response I call it being honest.”